Just like we need to eat and drink to survive we need to sleep!
Our circadian timing system helps us figure out when to do it but our homeostatic sleep system gives us the drive to do it.
Homeostasis is a state of stability or equilibrium. The longer we spend time on one end of the spectrum, the more intense our drive is towards the opposing state. For example, the hungrier we are, the more we want to eat. This also happens with sleep. The more we go without sleep the greater our drive is to get it. This is called sleep pressure.
In my last post I talked about how serotonin and melatonin help to regulate your circadian rhythm. Your homeostatic sleep system is regulated by the neuromodulator adenosine. The longer you are awake the more adenosine builds up in your system. Increasing levels of adenosine in your brain cause an increased urge to sleep, also referred to as an increased sleep pressure. Adenosine levels typically peak after 12-16 hours of being awake.
The most common way we can manipulate adenosine levels to help us feel less sleepy is with caffeine. To me caffeine = coffee but this stimulant is found in many sources (tea, sodas, energy drinks, dark chocolate, weight-loss pills and even some pain relievers).
Tastes better when they do that artsy stuff
Caffeine works by attaching onto adenosine receptors in the brain and blocking your sleepiness signals. It also causes your adrenal glands to increase production of adrenaline and cortisol, two stress hormones that'll want to keep you flying and fighting > sleeping.
There is an upside. Caffeine can help you feel less sleepy as well as potentially increase your athletic performance.
Position stand of the International society of sports nutrition via YLMSportsScience
It's important to know that adenosine continues to build up in your system while you are caffeinating or caffeinated. This explains the post-caffeine crash many feel.
Caffeine is not the only sleep disruptor on the drink list. Alcohol is on it too.
Typically I'm an old-fashioned type of girl...except when in the Bahamas
Alcohol consumption can also adversely affect your homeostatic sleep system and sleep drive. It does this by increasing the extracellular concentrations of adenosine, causing you to feel sleepy. Yes, you may feel that a drink helps you fall asleep but numerous studies link alcohol with poor sleep quality. Alcohol consumption is specifically disruptive your REM sleep.
Knowing that both caffeine and alcohol can negatively affect your sleep, what should you do?
General guidelines of setting a caffeine curfew of 12:00 or 1:00 p.m. and significantly limiting or abstaining from alcohol should help.
There are a lot of non-prescriptive sleep aides out there and I haven't tried most of them but a friend did recommend Doc Parsley’s sleep remedy and I really like it. I don’t use it every night but when I am feeling a bit sleep deprived. Check it out here. My personal preference is the apple cinnamon over the lemon & lime flavor, but both are good.
Cheers to your sleep. Level Up those Zzzzzzs!